Friday, October 16, 2009

Mortgage Market Pablum from Barclay's Michelle Meyer

Another wacky segment which I caught yesterday afternoon featured a woman from Barclays named Michelle Meyer. Apparently she was a rising star at...ah..... Lehman. Now she's chief economist at Barclays Capital, having been absorbed along with some other remnants of Dick Fuld's failed investment bank.

The topic of interest to me was one on which I'm planning another post, as well- a return to poor lending standards and the abrogating of current mortgage contracts.

The various talking heads on the segment were discussing rising delinquencies and, ultimately, the foreclosures which will follow. One CNBC reporter noted the story of a realtor who simply stopped paying her family's home's mortgage because their loan is so deeply underwater. This was some nine months ago, so the story went, and she hasn't been contacted by her bank yet, effectively letting the family live mortgage payment-free in their own home.

As the CNBC on-air anchor introduced the topic of mortgage forgiveness and rewrites, she polled the discussion participants regarding how this treatment of investors will affect subsequent mortgage lending in years to come.

Meyer jumped in and missed the entire point with her comment. Instead, she blurted out something about the price bottom having been reached, so it's upwards from here for the market. Nothing in her comment indicated she understood in the least what the anchor's question implied.

I watched this, and Meyer, with curiosity. Meyer appears to be, at most, in her mid-30s. Most of her mortgage-related experience has thus been in one of the most bizarre, unusual markets of all time. Rates near historic lows, negligible down payments and easily-securitized liar loans, option-rate ARMS and other strange residential finance creatures. All in a surreal market of ultra-low rates.

By contrast, my friend and sometimes business partner, B, is a residential finance veteran of some thirty years. He built at least two mortgage businesses on Wall Street, and has consulted with several others. He and I have discussed how he has supervised and managed teams of twenty-something mortgage business personnel who were stymied when confronting recurring problems B had first seen, and solved, decades ago.

It struck me as disappointing that CNBC has sunk to basically having kids on their segments as experts.

Remember when Mary Meeker and Henry Blodgett were the queen and king of internet business analysis? That didn't end so well, did it? If I remember correctly, I think Blodgett signed a consent decree to refrain from being an analyst anymore.

Lehman wasn't exactly a successful, driving force in investment banking during its last incarnation. Color me sceptical (yes, note the blog's title), but the failed bank wouldn't be a place where I'd expect to find the sector's best economic analysis or talent.

Even Bear Stearns had, in its day, Larry Kudlow and David Malpass. Both economists of much greater depth and with longer experience than Meyer.

To appear on air and assure everyone that, despite mortgage loan covenants being torn up by government programs, future housing finance will be unaffected just seems ludicrous to me.

But that's what Meyer seemed to be saying with her rather irrelevant response to the question concerning how investors will now view the safety of mortgage-backed instruments.

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